Bengaluru begin AFC Cup campaign with Lao Toyota test
Ashley Westwood said his team's tryst with continental football last season will hopefully hold them in good stead as Bengaluru FC kick-start their 2016 AFC Cup campaign when they come up against Lao Toyota FC in a Group H opener at the National Stadium, in Vientiane, on Wednesday.
The Blues arrived in the capital on Sunday morning before putting in two training sessions on Monday and Tuesday and the gaffer said preparations for the game were on track. "We've been here two days which was good because the players have had time to acclimatize. We've had a look at the pitch, we've had a little football and the lads are keen to get going," said Westwood while addressing the press on Tuesday.
The big absentee for the Blues is skipper Sunil Chhetri who hasn't made the trip owing to a strained groin while Eugeneson Lyngdoh continues his recuperation from a fracture. However, young striker Daniel Lalhlimpuia is in the reckoning after recovering from a knee injury that had kept him on the sidelines for over a month.
Lao Toyota, like Bengaluru, were established in 2013 and made the AFC Cup group stages by virtue of being the Lao Premier League champions last season. Their previous and only AFC Cup journey ended with an exit in the group stages last season after three draws and three defeats.
A first meeting between the sides
While Bengaluru have never faced Lao Toyota, Westwood said that his team had been studying some footage of their opponents. "We've watched a few videos from last season given that the League here hasn't begun as yet and we are well aware of what we are up against.
The Lao players are technically and physically good and will prove tough opposition. We've played in Malaysia, Maldives, Singapore and Hong Kong and we know the standard and level that Asia demands. Hopefully, we will give a good account of ourselves," said Westwood.
Bengaluru put up a good show in Asia last season, coming out of the group stages behind Indonesian side Persipura Jayapura before going down 2-0 to South China in the Round-of-16.
Malaysian team and current AFC Cup champions Johor Darul Ta'zim FC and Ayeyawady United FC from Myanmar complete Group H - one that Westwood tips Johor to be the favourites of. "If you see where they are and what they've done, I think Johor are the favourites. They've also had a huge injection of money where they have signed some players. After that, it's between us, Lao Toyota and Ayeyawady," said Westwood.
The game kicks off at 4.30 pm IST.